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18 Aug 2009 14:39
Write off Mamelodi Sundowns at your peril.
That was the message from the Brazilians’ hard tackling central defender Matthew Booth, as he and his teammates prepare to face Orlando Pirates in what promises to be a highly charged Absa Premiership showdown at Ellis Park on Wednesday night.
Booth (32) who proved all his critics wrong when he emerged as one of the national stars when he helped Bafana Bafana finish fourth in the Confederations Cup in June by rolling back the years, said while there is a lot of expectation at ‘Downs since the arrival of Barcelona and Bulgarian superstar Hristo Stoichkov as coach, the players were realistic.
“To have finished ninth last season and then to be looked on as champions elect, is maybe a bridge too far for us this season.
“But we are the dark horses and if we beat Pirates—who I regard as favourites along with champions SuperSport United to win the league—then who knows, anything is possible.
“Pirates will be a big test for the players and new coach and we are determined to rise to the occasion.
It would be foolish for any team to take us for granted the way we were last season.
“We are a different team this season.
Downs won their opening fixture 2-0 at home to newly promoted Mpumalanga Black Aces, but Booth said nobody at Downs is getting carried away.
“Aces will struggle unless they buy one or two experienced players. Pirates pose a much tougher test.”
Booth said the players had taken to their new coach immediately and despite lack of success in pre-season matches, spirits in the camp were sky high.
“The new coach is a great guy. He has done it all as a player with his country and won the European Champions League with Barcelona.
“We have tremendous respect for him and keen to do well under him.”
Booth said, however, the big test for the Bulgarian ace would come when the chips were down and things start going wrong.
“We aim to do better this season, but there are always ups and downs and when the down side comes, that is when the coach and players are tested.”
Booth said the new players such as striker Mabhuti Khenyeza, midfielders Papi Zothwane, Lerato Chabangu and striker/midfielder Lebo Mokoena, who joined form Pirates, will have a point to prove.
Mokoena claimed he never got a fair chance to play under Bucs coach Ruud Krol and will be keen to play against his former teammates.
“Mokoena has settled in well and is working hard. He would love to play and if he does, he will have a point to prove.”
Booth will get the job of keeping his Bafana teammate, Katlego Mashego, quiet and said one of the dangers from Pirates could come from right wing Dikgang Mabalane.
“I never like to single out individual opponents but Mabalane is on form and is a danger man.”
With Both teams winning their opening games—Bucs defeated Ajax Cape Town 1-0 at Newlands in their opening match—fans can expect plenty of early season fireworks from two of the most talented teams in the PSL.
Across town at Milpark, BidVest Wits and a rejuvenated Maritzburg United lock horns.
The Students coach Roger de Sa, has been busy in the transfer market and has strengthened his side in all departments. They kicked-off their league programme with a credible away draw in Durban against AmaZulu.
Maritzburg showed they are a much improved side form the one that fought relegation last season after their 1-1 hone draw against SuperSport in their opening game.
Aces face a tough home clash at Witbank’s Puma Rugby Stadium where they come up against Moroka Swallows under new German coach Rainer Zobel, who will be keen to collect his first away win after a disappointing home draw against Golden Arrows recently.—Sapa
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